Don’t you love getting to hear the story behind the story? I met Amanda at church many years ago. I knew her more from a distance, but always respected her sturdy character and fun, adventurous spirit. She served for many years as director for one of the children’s ministries at church, yet I had no idea the ways that position was a catalyst for her own development and growth. I am grateful for a glimpse into her process and I think you will likewise appreciate her words of grace, truth, and vulnerability.
A few months ago I stood in my parent’s kitchen elbows pushing down onto the granite counter top, shifting my weight from side to side, talking with my dad about feminism.
I wish I could bring you all into my parents’ kitchen with me as I write this. In that kitchen my brothers, sister-in-law and parents all speak, listen, and respond to each other. In that kitchen we love each other even when we don’t agree. It’s a way of knowing each other better, to listen to opinions and stories that are different from our own.
I would like to tell you a story about my fear and how my beliefs about feminism were formed. This not deep theology, rather, it is a compilation of experience, vulnerability and scriptural truths that I have wrestled with and continue to study.
This story starts in some of my saddest places, so please excuse me while I take a breather to gulp some fresh air.
My story of feminism starts with fear.
You see, when I was young I was very afraid. For a variety of reasons, some valid and some that were magnified and multiplied by experience, my ultimate fear was of being betrayed by men. I saw men as abusers and users, and for me, the only way to trust a man was to find a woman to vouch for him.
Strangely, during this time, I very strongly believed in complementarian gender roles, where men are the ones responsible for Biblical leadership at church and at home, and both men and women are encouraged to develop their “masculine” and “feminine” qualities in order to succeed in male/female relationships. Of course, this is an oversimplified version of complementarianism, but remember this is my story, and this was what I believed.
I pictured myself growing up to be a woman, waiting for a man of God who I could trust to lead me, and then marrying him and settling into the role of a “helpmate.” Of course, to do that, I would need to find a man whose life calling closely matched my own. And let’s not forget that I was looking for a man “who I could trust,” all the while doubting if that man even existed. Needless to say, I did not date. It was too scary. But I was a good cook, I was good with children, and I kept following the things that I felt like God was calling me to do, until the day that what “I felt God was calling me to do” suddenly collided with my beliefs about the role of women in leadership and in the church.
I was 19 when I was offered a position to lead a children’s ministry at our church. Young and single, I did not feel prepared to lead in a ministry type setting. I spent the first 7 months of my role as a “leader in ministry” deeply questioning whether I was truly capable to lead. I remember going to one of our pastors and asking him what he really thought about women in leadership. I explained that I was having doubts about my own ability to lead, and that I had always been taught that women’s leadership roles within the church were to be limited and complementary to those of men. His response was that the Biblical passages about women in ministry are “not very clear,” which, unfortunately, did not help me with my present situation. What WAS helpful to me was the part of our conversation where he told me that he considered me capable, and even called, to be a part of ministry at our church.
With few answers, but a bit more confidence, I left his office and went back to work.
In the seven years that I worked for our church as a leader in children’s ministry, I ended up studying those “not very clear” Biblical passages. I took a class called “The History of Women in America.” I read books like The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church by Don Williams and Why Not Women: A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry and Leadership by Loren Cunningham. All of which helped to shape my understanding of the role of women in society, at church, and at home.
Another thing was happening during those same seven years.
I started to date.
And I was quickly confronted by how difficult it was for me to trust men, and to let them into my life. I decided to set aside an amount of time to dig into healing in this area. I started seeing a counselor. I would go to her office and sit on her couch while she walked with me through some of my most traumatizing childhood memories. The emphasis of these sessions was, “where was God when _______ was happening?” My fear and unforgiveness were brought before me. It was painful. It was beautiful. I suddenly felt much more vulnerable in a lot of places that I had always thought I had under control. I shared these experiences with my family and friends. They sat with me through a lot of my processing. There were times when outside events seemed to affirm my hearts cry that, “No one can be trusted.” But, now I had a group of people who cried back with me, “Our trust is in the Lord.” This group included both men and women.
Looking back now, I feel like God was working on my trust issues with men at the same time as He was making me into feminist. Ironic. But, isn’t that the way that He does things?
I want to say here that there are a lot of people who I deeply respect who don’t like the word “feminist.” For them it is a militant term. It conjures up memories of bloody intellectual wars, woman against woman, men against women, and accusations that multiply like popcorn. I’m pretty sure I’ve told people I was a feminist, only to have them do a double take and check for a bra strap.
Nevertheless, I still think it’s important to use the word feminist, regardless of the negative stereotypes or maybe even because of them.
I call myself a feminist because women all over the world are still treated as second-class citizens, because women are mistreated, raped and kept below the poverty line. I call myself a feminist because women are still unable to be called “pastors” without fear of members of the congregation leaving. I call myself a feminist because I have experienced sexual harassment in the work place and have been ogled and grabbed while caring for my patients.
I call myself a feminist because Eve was told “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” AFTER the fall, not before. I call myself a feminist because Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well to be an evangelist, and because Jesus affirmed Mary’s right to sit at His feet and learn from his teachings rather than help her sister with the household chores.
I call myself a feminist because the strongest marriages I have ever seen are the ones where women and men act as equals (regardless of how they would define their gender roles), and because I love and trust my brothers and dad who have always encouraged me to be strong and vulnerable.
I do not believe in feminism that looks to oppress others. I do not believe in feminism that is founded on mistrusting men. I have seen where that type of thinking goes, and it is destructive. We have been GIVEN equality. We do not need to TAKE it. We have to remember the greatest commandments of Love God and Love each other. We have to remember that submission is mutual, women to men, men to women, child to parents, youth to elders, etc. So, sometimes this type of feminism will look like excusing ourselves from heated discussions about gender roles and stopping to listen rather than talk. It looks like a continued search for the truth in scripture, and answering to God for how we LOVED – not for how many correct opinions we had.
I know that I’m not saying anything new here, in fact, I’ve been influenced by a lot of people’s writings and stories. One of them was this blog post by Kate Wallace. Another was a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, which handles some of the more touchy topics of gender roles with heart and humor. And finally, I recently read a book by Sarah Bessey called Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, a part of which actually blew my mind.
Sarah expounded on the idea of women as man’s “ezer kenegdo” or- as it is so often translated- man’s helpmate. This struck a personal chord with me because in high school we young ladies considered ourselves to be in training to be the best “helpmate” that a man could desire. Bessey talks about how Genesis 1 is the only time that the word “ezer” is used in the Old Testament in reference to a person. All other times it is used, it is used to describe the help or saving power of God. Bessey says:
In the Old Testament, the word ezer appears twenty-one times in three different contexts: the creation of woman, when Israel applied for military aid, and in reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purposes (in this context, ezer appears sixteen times). God isn’t a helpmeet in the watered-down milquetoast way we’ve taught or understood that word within our churches, is he? No, our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior.
Pretty great, yes!? This brought so much joy to my adventure loving soul because it looks like I still get to be a part of the action. I want to be a woman who men trust because they know I’ll have their back in the battles of life. I want to be their helpmate. I want to be the kind of woman who knows that the saving power of God is her strength.
Whew! Ok, sorry. Back to my story.
In my story, I have had a lot of fear and I am still afraid of many things, but my fears are slowly taking up less and less of my time.
I’m a feminist, not because men are bad, but because God made woman and then said, “This is very good.”
Amanda thinks too much, and does not write enough, but when she does write she shares some of it over at http://ale-la.blogspot.com. She loves adventure, Spanish, plants, her friends, babies, her family, and the mountains (in no particular order). Currently, she works as a hospice nurse. But recently she lived in Peru and worked as a nurse for a non-profit organization called MMI. The best and the hardest things she has ever done happened when Jesus asked her to surrender more of herself. So, she tries to surrender often, and then tries to stop taking her life back again.